Why Japanese Games Are Breaking Up With the West

I don’t get a chance to play as many video games as I used to, but when I do, they tend to be reissues of old Super NES RPGs like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy or visual novels like Jake Hunter or Hotel Dusk. While I cannot deny the obvious advancements in graphics and AI in contemporary console games, I would also argue that many of the newer games do nothing for me (with the exception of the Fable franchise–those games are a blast).

In “Why Japanese Games are Breaking Up with the West“, a 2011 essay published at 1UP, Ryan Winterhalter argues that Japan has also stubbornly clung to the older 2D style of games, showing little interest in today’s epic shooters and virtual worlds. Japanese game designers, who for years maintained the hallmark for quality console games, have apparently lost the zeitgeist while continuing to pursue  their own, arguably more interesting, path. Winterhalter’s essay makes for some fascinating reading.

It’s not that Japanese games are bad and western games are good or vice versa, the problem facing fans of Japanese games outside of the country is that the tastes of Japanese gamers are diverging from the rest of the world, thus limiting the commercial appeal of even the biggest titles in Japan. The specialized habits of Japanese adult gamers have left the console space in the country to otaku and their moe. Meanwhile, the Japanese consumers are perfectly content with this state of affairs, because as far as many are concerned they’re not missing out on anything. The gamers have changed more than the games, and while that leaves a lot of old-school fans in Europe and the Americas out in cold the vast majority of consumers around the world seem to feel just fine about the current state of affairs.


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